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Debut novel explores 1970s Jamaica
Karl Koth drew on some personal experience for his first novel.
The Glenelm resident and University of Manitoba history professor was born in Jamaica, but has called Winnipeg home for the past 35 years. He is set to launch Jamaican-set A Matter of Seasons at McNally Robinson (1120 Grant Ave.) on June 12 at 7 p.m.
The novel is set in the 1970s and revolves around Prime Minister Michael Manley’s democratic socialist reforms, which Koth said ultimately failed.
"It was his attempt to change Jamaica’s trajectory," said Koth. "It was an attempt to turn the island’s economy around in a socialist democratic way.
"He was trying to change the psychology of Jamaica to attack underdevelopment."
In the novel, Koth’s protagonist, Doug Austin, returns to Jamaica after years away to become a secondary school teacher and aid in the development spearheaded by Manley. However, the white Austin, who comes from an upper-class land- and slave-owning family, comes to question his intentions after falling in love with a black colleague.
"He tries to throw himself into the life of change and comes up against all these obstacles," said Koth. "It is a story that is set in the political conundrum of the era, but is at the same time, a mystery and a love story."
Koth said he wrote the first chapter immediately after moving away from Jamaica, and the story stewed in his mind before he hammered it out beginning in 2009.
"In 2009, it just flowed out of me," he said. "You think about it. Those experiences are very stark experiences, trying to change a society in a revolutionary way, or a semi-revolutionary way, and so they stick with you.
"What also sticks with me is that it failed, and nothing was able to replace it up until now."
Koth added plenty will think of famous figures like sprinter Usain Bolt and musicians Bob Marley and Peter Tosh when they think of the country. However, he said there’s more to the island nation of approximately 2.7 million than famous faces.
"There’s another story to Jamaica, which is one of poverty, extreme crime, which seems to be escalating," he said, noting the novel’s overarching themes of obstacles to change make it relevant to readers today.
The novel, published through self-publishing service FriesenPress, is available at McNally Robinson, as well as online on Amazon.
Koth added he’s working on a book of his memories of growing up in Jamaica, as well as a look at slavery from a female perspective, which he said will in part be based on family history.
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